Dimensions of Leadership that are More Caught than Taught

After spending fourteen years as a leader in the Xenos Cincinnati church, I returned in to Columbus in 2001 and joined with Gary DeLashmutt as a co-leader. The work in Cincinnati bore some fruit good fruit over the years, but there were many problems as well. A church planting movement did not occur.

Very quickly after joining Gary I began to notice he led in a very different way than I did. We had the same doctrinal beliefs and the same basic theory of ministry. Yet, the “feel” and “tone’ of the home group was very different than the one I led in Cincinnati. That’s when I realized that leaders could hear the same teachings and take the same training classes, but end up leading in very different ways with very different results.

It is very difficult to translate what a leader says in a class or sermon into action in your ministry context. The teacher might, for example call for aggressiveness or passion in class. A leader taking that class might go out and apply that idea in a very different way that the teacher of that class intended. This is especially true if the leader taking that class is frustrated and ego-involved in ministry. If so, he might apply passion in a mean-spirited or berating way. Another leader might hear a lecture on patience in ministry. She goes and applies the idea in a way that really could be considered softness more than patience.

There are a lot of things I have learned from books or lectures. These have been very helpful in my development. Yet, I have realized that there many things I learned from watching another leader and being in the atmosphere he or she created, the tone they set. I had to “catch” this knowledge from an experienced and effective leader.

There are things I have heard or read that I have profoundly misapplied. When I was in Cincinnati, I would periodically come up to Columbus to hear teachings on leadership and ministry. In my mind, I was applying those principles in my work. Only after I observed Gary for awhile did I realize I was misapplying those ideas in damaging ways.

Consider these life situations

  • How did you learn to drive? - You have to do it in order to understand it. Yes, there is some class time and help from an expert, but most of it is experiential. What if the expert didn’t let you drive?
  • How did you learn to play music?
  • Who do you know God is sovereign and good?
  • How do people learn? We tend to think that they learn mostly through books, lectures, classes or through me explaining things.
  • What is a teacher? Just a more informed person? In the case of a Christian, just one who knows the Bible well?
  • What is the goal of teaching and leading? Just knowledge and compliance? How do we teach people to love certain things and to value some things more than other things?

Two Kinds of Knowledge

Explicit Knowledge (EK): Some things that we learn and teach are explicit, they are facts we declare. They are conceptual frameworks that we can take in as data. We master facts even if we don’t use them.  Explicit knowledge can be formally articulated or encoded; it can be more easily transferred or shared; is abstract and removed from direct experience (CLASSROOM, BOOKS)

Tacit Knowledge (TK): Other knowledge is tacit, it is knowledge-in-practice; developed from direct experience and action; highly practical and situation specific; subconsciously understood and applied; difficult to articulate; usually shared through highly interactive conversation and shared experience.

It is more like skills—how to disciple, how to pray, how to build a friendship, how to motivate, how to be confident in the Lord. These tend to be learned experientially as we participate in it.

When it comes to problem solving, experts, as opposed to novices, can solve a problem more readily as they have in mind a pattern born of experience, which they can overlay on a particular problem and use to quickly detect a solution

My Experiences

  • Some of the things I remember vividly are things I was shown (Leaders casting vision for my life in the past, showing concern for me during difficult times, admonishing me when I’ve hid my sin; seeing people cope with illness and death).
  • My Dad and photography
  • My experience with Danny Walker (talking about the word together and applying it) He gave me more than information, more than what the text meant, but also how to love it. I would see the effects of the word on him and want to be like that. He would ask questions to me about my response to the text.
  • My experience in a Ministry House: learning people skills and brokenness.
  • Seeing poverty in India and seeing Pastor Isaiah in agony about his wife.
  • My experience as a school teacher. I never took a class on education. I was told some things about how to manage behavior, but I had to learn by doing. Some reading helped—especially about boys and girls differences. I even learned how to write stories for the middle school mind from being immersed in their world.

Conceptual Leadership Knowledge (CLK)

“Explicit”—can be written down, read about.
Example: “Leadership is servanthood.”

Experiential Leadership Knowledge (ELK)

  • “Tacit”—not written down, but in one’s head, gathered from experience.
  • Example: Example: “Leadership is profoundly difficult and rewarding work.”
  • Example: “I am confident that the Lord will give us direction.”
  • Example: “This situation calls for the introduction of tension into the group.”
  • Example: How do we know what grace is? How do we know how to live under grace and treat people with grace?  What faith is? How to live by faith or lead by faith?  Is it just from reading about it?

Two Warnings

  1. Don’t minimize the conceptual foundation. It provides an interpretive framework that leads to experiential knowledge. Example: a map
  2. Imparting only conceptual knowledge will fail to produce workers and leaders.
    • People will fail to know HOW to do things and lose motivation (they are not enjoying what they know) and they grow discouraged.
    • When disciplers control and tell people what to do, then tacit knowledge is not passed on—just rules or abstractions.   Illustration: The person who gets help on a computer but never learns what it was that was done for them. They are permanently lame on their computer.


Recall the driving illustration… “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” – Heb. 5:14 Practice trains our senses to be discerning.

James 1 describes the power of doing, the insight gained by obeying and the delusion that comes from doing nothing.  E.g. Imagine a guy who read and read and took driver’s education classes, but didn’t drive. He would perhaps consider himself learned about driving. Some are like this about a sport—they just know about it—but they don’t play it.

Eph. 4:15,16—speaking the truth in love.

Acts 20:31 “with tears” was added to the content of the admonition.

See also 2 Tim. 3:10,11,14.

Consider the letter of 2 Timothy as a whole. Is Paul just laying out concepts? No, he is relaying a sense of urgency and confidence and reminding Timothy of past experiences (see 1:3-7; 1:12; 1:15-17; 4:6-9, 4:16-18).

NOTE: I am assuming that factual and conceptual learning is going on.

How you get receive TK

Many leaders are around TK, but are not aware or not tuned into it. They are only listening to the words (EK), but are not hearing the tone, watching for how, etc. TK is attained experientially, so what kinds of experiences or learning settings should you seek?

  • Seek older, fruitful Christians. Ask them questions and watch them closely. You must have a learner’s attitude and humility to do this. See Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:5,6; See Proverbs 1:5; 9:9; 10:8; 12:15;13:20. You have to get personally involved, you can’t be aloof and self-protective.
    • Look at sphere consultation as a great opportunity—not a threat!
    • There have been times in the past when I avoided the wise out of pride and dishonesty.
  • Practice taking initiative in ministry, especially discipleship. There are many things about discipling no book can teach. You learn about yourself (your gifts and flaws, weak spots in your knowledge, your come-off), how God works, and about people (what motivates, offends, alienates).
  • Be “mobilized” into the non-Christian community. When we are mobilized, we gain experiential knowledge from non-Christians.
    • Mobilization gives us a chance to model witnessing and it changes us and ignites our passion and intensity.
    • This is crucial for leading evangelism. I think the idea of a burden for people comes from being among them, knowing how they tick, what pain they are in, etc. Sometimes even in films and songs you hear the cry of the soul. So, the knowledge of lostness and urgency comes from non-Christians. Let your heart be crushed by this!!! Be aware of the needs of the lost around the world.
    • I find even that my faith is strengthened by being around non-Christians and seeing them live out the image of God in them and hearing their longings. I find, too, that so often Christian ideas will resonate with non-Christians—again affirming my faith in the truth.  Show that truth is tested and effective.
  • Pursue sanctification and consecration (Romans 12:1,2 leads to enjoyment of God’s will)
    • Since growing spiritually IS knowing God, the closer we walk with God, the more of this kind of knowledge we have. Some long-time Christians have not surrendered their lives to God. Think about it: knowing the will of God…
  • Pursue honest dealings with the Lord (Ps. 51 & 32) & obey promptings of the Holy Spirit; (Gal 5:25 & Acts 8) and pray for enlightenment (Eph 1 & 3).
    • Honesty opens the door for knowledge about God’s grace and self-awareness, which is essential to humility and teaching.
    • Promptings add a whole new dimension to your Christian life—adventure! Heeding these gives you confidence—which is learned via experience.
    • Enlightenment is when God shows us the personal application of what we know.
  • Be open and close with fellow Christian workers.
    • This readies us to learn about ourselves, our tendencies, and about God’s grace. Being open puts us in a position to receive an experience of seeing our sin and or pain in light of God’s grace.
  • Cash in on your failures.
    • You can’t do this if you make avoiding failure a value.
      • “The greatest mistake in life is constantly fearing you will make one” quoted in How to be a Great Cell Group Coach, 65   “Fail forward.”
      • “He who makes no mistakes makes no progress.” –TR ibid
    • Of course, failure is painful. But some things can only be learned by failure. Sometimes it is only failure that leads us to pray, to realize our spiritual impotence. My failures have given me some of my most precious knowledge. But I could not learn at first because of ego-involvement. Instead, I learned about what happens when there is no corporate prayer, when empathy is not present…
      • Some of us get defensive. We keep denying failure, and therefore can’t learn.
      • When you don’t succeed, or get what you want, it creates a desire to learn, and to fall upon the Lord.

How you can better transmit (“throw”) TK

The following things, taken together will build an “ethos.”

  • Mobilize people. Don’t let them get tribal and comfortable. In other words, don’t just talk about outreach—do it, and do it with someone else when possible. People learn about their faith as they share it. Doing leads to learning. Roland Allen said:
    • “If we seek for the cause which produces rapid expansion when a new faith seizes hold of men who feel able and free to propagate it spontaneously of their own initiative, we find its roots in a certain natural instinct. This instinct is admirably expressed in a saying of Archytas of Tarentum quoted by Cicero,
      • ‘If a man ascended to Heaven and saw the beautiful nature of the world and of the stars his feeling of wonder, in itself most delightful, would lose its sweetness if he had not someone to whom he could tell it.’
    • Upon the speaker, too, the effort to express his truth exercises a profound effect. The expression of his experience intensifies it; it renews it; it repeats it; it enlightens it. In speaking of it he goes through it again; in setting it before another he sets it before himself in a new light. He gets a deeper sense of its reality and power and meaning. It makes his hold upon his truth surer and stronger.
    • One of the great virtues of spontaneous voluntary expression is that in the effort to express to another a truth which the speaker has found he not only renews the past, but, especially in the early stages, he finds out his own ignorance of many aspects of his truth, and he is generally eager to learn, and to inquire further for himself. He searches diligently for answers to difficulties which arise. He is forced to think over and over again what are the implications of his truth; he has few ready-made stereotyped answers. As he goes on, no doubt, these tend to multiply, but they cannot multiply at first without much real experience. Thus the voluntary spontaneous expression of truth experienced strengthens and advances the speaker.”
    • Jesus in Mark 6:7-13; 31-52 sent them out, then he had them come back for ‘rest’ only to serve the 5000, then endure the storm.
    • So, we should help people see when God has put them in a “tacit learning situation.”
    • How do you mobilize?
      • Be an example
      • Have prayer specifically for it.
      • Be willing to change structures of the focus of structures.
      • Be willing to leave the people in the group at times to do outreach. This is also good for them.
      • Do practical training (not abstract apologetics).
  • By giving people responsibilities sooner rather than later
    • “People learn best when they are confronted with trials and difficulties—when they are suddenly on their backs looking up. Take advantage of these opportunities to coach.” How to be a Great Cell Group Coach, 65
    • Comiskey says, “multiply or die.”  Unless cell group members become cell group leaders, cell groups will stagnate and die.” 73
    • Comiskey cites Christian Schwarz:
      • “If we were to identify any principle as the most important, then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups. Virtually no other aspect of church life has such an enormous influence on both the quality index and the growth of a church.”  73
    • See Luke 10:20. Jesus helps them learn from their experience. A big role we have as leaders is interpreting experience for younger workers, drawing their attention to what is important, to what God is doing.
    • Have a category for letting someone teach your group, even if they are not ready to be “in the rotation.” Take turns leading prayer, getting bread, cooking for the group, giving a planned sharing during a HC teaching, coordinating your home group’s volleyball team, etc.
    • Run a cell where all bring a thought (“nugget”).
  • Help people discover and exercise their spiritual gifts (and gaining a sense of calling)   (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6)
    • Part of how God directs and motivates us is through our gifts. God seems to reveal vision and direction as we lay hold of what he has given us. What he wants us to do in our future is bound up with how He has made us.
    • We learn a love for Christian ministry as we use our gift. We lean priorities, we learn to trust Him. We learn confidence. We get ministry experience in our area of gifting and that becomes experiential knowledge.
  • Invest one-on-one & be “self-revealing”
    • What becomes clear is that knowledge is transmitted personally. If you are unwilling to invest personally, then you can’t pass on or receive much.
    • Something happens one on one that just doesn’t in groups—even in groups of three. I am going have to assume you know the case for discipleship (see Dennis McCallum’s book, Organic Discipleship). I make weekly commitments to a few guys and stick to them.
    • Process in front of them (what you are passionate about, what you are urgent about comes out and what you deplore, and how you do things [like Carson plan]).
      • Be “self-revealing.” Be honest in front of people (like Jehoshephat in 2 Chron. 20 “we don’t know what to do.”) This shows that you are willing to be consumed by the work—to be made tired. Paul and “the daily pressure of the churches” yet the joy. See 2 Cor. 6:9,10.
      • Example: A leader frankly stating to their group: “We are pinned down on the beach folks.”
      • Example: Telling a wayward group of men in a ministry house: “I’m grieved. I’m worried… Guys, this house might not make it.”
    • Do with them (read [often better than assigning], pray, witness).
  • Consciously model biblical values (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3)
    • Why is being an example so important? Not just so you are not a hypocrite, but so something deeper is conveyed to those watching. It’s not just being an example of what to avoid, but positive actions, values, and affections.
      • “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Baghdad Theatre one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” – Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz
      • EXAMPLE: It’s like noticing the flowers in Clintonville: you have to have someone point them out, and that person has to be enthused and knowledgeable about them.
    • Are you perceived as a rewarded model or a punished model? - Specifics:
      • Grace and the fear of the Lord (Deut. 10).
      • Grace and high standards
        When a group’s ethos emphasizes both grace and high standards people feel challenged, but not judged. They are not on the defensive. They feel safe—they do not feel hounded. They don’t feel shamed or berated when they fail. They want to grow and serve because they enjoy it.
      • Do you model a love for God’s word?
      • Do you model a love for people—that you enjoy and delight in people?
      • Do you model faith in God’s leadership and sovereignty?
      • Do model financial generosity?
      • Do you model gratitude?
      • Do you model confidence in the gospel,  joy in evangelism?
      • Do people feel your passion?
  • Pray regularly with others
    • Praying in the presence of others may have more power than teaching at times. I’m referring to both spontaneous times with a person or two as well as in a planned group setting. It’s really the only way to demonstrate dependence on God.
      “We often underestimate the way our actions overshadow our words. Only when prayer comes to characterize the life of the missionaries and church planters, does it spread to their team members and to those they are trying to reach. If prayer doesn’t characterize the missionary’s life then the new believer will not grasp the true source of the missionary’s life-changing power. He will either view the missionary as an extraordinary person whom he could never imitate, or worse, a secular person whom he would not wish to imitate.” – David Garrison, Church Planting Movements, p. 175 .
    • See Mark 14:32-42. They would have learned more than what to say in prayer when Jesus opened about his troubled heart in Gethsemane. This was one of the powerful scenes of The Passion of the Christ.
    • See Acts 4:24-31 on prayer.
    • How does this impart TK? Through tone, passion, grief, PROTEST (or rebellion) priorities stand out, and expectations are sensed.
  • Listen and ask questions (rather than giving the answer quickly)
    • “He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.” – Proverbs 18:13
    • Leaders like to talk, don’t we? It’s hard to realize that by not talking (or at least talking less) and asking good questions, we are still teaching (and being taught) powerfully.
      • Example: After to listening patiently to my crazy reasoning for moving to Seattle, Gary simply asked, “Are you going to something or away from something?”
      • After being asked what you did, you are asked, “How do you feel about it?”
      • What is the Lord bringing to your attention?
      • Have you prayed about that?
    • Why this teaches: When people don’t know in areas that they see as important, and they know they don’t know, they are more ready to listen to the answer.
    • If we listen, then we find out what the Lord is doing and we get on board with that.
    • Comiskey on listening:
      • Good listening increases the emotional bank account; promotes trust and friendship; allows you to collect accurate data. See How to be a Great Cell Group Coach, p. 30.
      • Beware of listening only so you can talk. Beware of telling too many of your stories.
      • Level III listening: the coach pays attention to every word and fully grasps the information, but then goes further by taking into account the environment, emotional language, past conversations, and especially what God is revealing each step of the way.
      • When level III listening is taking place, the coach is listening from a number of perspectives. He listens closely to gestures, facial expressions and what is not said to understand what the leader is actually thinking. A coach who listens on level III knows that 60% of all communication is body language.
      • The key to Level III listening is flexibility: taking in the information, digesting it, and going with the flow of the situation. You might feel the need to change gears, to follow the current path, or return to a previous discussion. You might sense that the Spirit of God is prompting you to take the information and run in a different direction.
      • Great questions go beyond information and reach the heart, stirring leaders to reflect and refocus.
        • Where will you go from here?
        • What is your desired outcome?
        • What do you want?
      • Good questions enable to leaders to reveal things they may not have been aware of
      • Ask people questions that are personal, causing them to reflect (often in ways they never have).
        • “Have you ever asked God about that relationship with her?”
        • Example: At a men’s retreat this May, I asked them about their childhood and emotions and if they have close friends.
  • Point people to what God is doing (in their lives and the lives of others, the church). Then they learn from God, from experience, and how to interpret experience
    • Example: Help people see opportunities in difficult circumstances & failure
    • Example: Train them to “go vertical” in their decision making RATHER THAN TELLING THEM WHAT TO DO.
  • When possible, teaching through discussion, rather than straight lecture.
    • WHY? Not to be democratic, but so you create the tension to learn. When people see a discrepancy between where they are and where they want to be, that creates tension. So the discussion must be relevant—being true and relevant to you is not enough.
    • I’m NOT talking about a lack of leadership in a discussion or just going around and sharing feelings.
    • How/why this imparts TK:
      • because people are participating, having to think about why and how;
      • they are often contributing to others as they discuss, so they are doing others centered ministry;
      • when people testify it makes the truth more visual and emotional and experiential
    • They are driving, so they remember the way.
  • Creating (or allowing) tension.
    • When there is tension people tend to act to relieve the tension. So, they will learn because they acted.
    • For example, when few pray, allow the silence to kill them, allow them to share the pain.
    • Example: Think about the way Xenos handles its budget. “Hey, we all want these great things, but we must decide.” By deciding, we will being taking ownership
    • Example: The group is not reaching anyone for Christ, but the people are happy and think it is a great group. Sometimes they need to realize their group is weak and failing.
    • Example: One time, as part of our preparation for a plant, we put the names of everyone in our HC on cards and asked the workers to sort out who should go where. We wanted them to share the pain.
  • Helping people discover and exercise their spiritual gifts (which is really part of their calling).
    • God seems to reveal vision and direction as we lay hold of what he has given us. What he wants us to do in our future is bound up with how He has made us.
    • Our people will learn a love for Christian ministry as they use their gifts... They will learn confidence. They will get ministry experience in their area of gifting and that becomes experiential knowledge.
    • How do we help?
      • Remember to teach on it and talk about how that has affected you.
      • Be sure to honor the diversity of gifts.
      • Try to find out what their passions are. What excites them, how they are wired, how to witness.
  • Urge people to consecration
    • This will bring much in the way of experiential knowledge to them! They will be trusting, content and have moral authority. They will know that God takes care of us. They will know what true fulfillment is.
  • Create training structures that are conducive to transmitting experiential knowledge.
    • What if all your structures are like a class like with a lecture (HC as a mini CT; cell as a class). All of this usually creates passivity.
    • Example: Shifting from cell to just gathering to pray.
    • Example: “Go”-Groups.
    • Example: Explain how a “Lead Team Dinner” transmits knowledge differently than a class or a “meeting.”


The following things, taken together will build an “ethos.”